An eighth-place finish at the Olympics is a dream few attain. And it’s no small exploit to survive 47 days stranded at sea. To endure two years of cruel treatment at a Japanese prison camp is unimaginable. Yet there’s something more remarkable about Louis Zamperini’s story than any of these feats combined.
The life of an Olympian-turned-war hero is a treasure for the history books, but Louis Zamperini accomplished something greater than these other impossibilities. It’s found in the words of a letter penned by his own hand, written to the man who’d tortured him during those years at prison camp…
“Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war but also as a human being, were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war’s end…The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love has replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, ‘Forgive your enemies and pray for them’…I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.” –Louis Zamperini (Unbroken)
Reading these words, I’m humbled to consider the depth of suffering and staggered to contemplate the degree of forgiveness on the part of a man who suffered so greatly. This overcoming of unthinkable trials, this forgiving of unimaginable torture is the war hero’s greatest triumph.
It reminds me of Corrie ten Boom, who after saving the many lives during World War II was sent to prison camp—there tortured and starved, there losing her family. Years later, upon encountering one of the guards who’d dealt the blows of suffering—she forgave. Or of Elisabeth Elliot, who after her husband was speared to death, returned to the tribe responsible, living among them and teaching them the way of love.
Ultimately, it reminds me of Jesus who, beaten, tortured, suffering, and dying on the cross spoke words of forgiveness to his tormentors. If I am ever to forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable, and overcome the impossible, I look to my Savior, who went before me in the way of suffering and forgiveness. And who enables me to do the same.
“But I say to you, love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand, Random House, 2010, pp. 396-97.
Source: A War Hero’s Greatest Triumph